So…There I am on the side of the Arkansas river. My friends are paddling downstream (hopeful of finding, retrieving, and returning my boat and paddle). Standing dripping onto the railroad tracks, wearing splash pants, a spankin’ new drytop, helmet, pfd, neoprene skirt and a nice-ish pair of 5•10 shoes called ‘Nemo’s. Now, all I had to do was turn, walk to the base of an incline train track, wait my turn to be taken to the top of the gorge 1200 feet above me, and wait in the parking lot for my friends to come and get me. Easy.

So I walked to the incline train station. There’s probably a better name for it. Think about it for a minute- it’s this cute little area at the base of the incline tracks with striped awnings and painted railings and loading platforms so narrow because the angle of the tracks means they are, essentially, steps. What do you call a fun, bustling little loading/unloading area full of tourists?

Only it wasn’t full of tourists. Not one. In fact, the train was there, but it, like me, all its friends had gone. The train should be going up and down full of tourists every few minutes, and instead, here it was sitting derelict. I should be riding it back up to the edge of the parking lot to await my friends.

There hadn’t been any tourists here for a while. ^%$#! Betrayed by a cheerfully painted incline train. Or Fate. Whichever.

I stood on the leaf-strewn platform and looked up. I had 20/15 vision back then. Darn useful when you wanted to look 1200 feet up and spot some helpful soul peering down at you waving a hand as if to say, “We’ve spotted you and we’re here to help.” 20/15 vision, it turns out, is insufficient to the task, especially when the son of a bitch isn’t there. You start looking at gears and motors and things that, from 1200 feet away, look ALMOST like a helpful soul. But only if you’re still in a hopeful mood.

Ten minutes later, they look like gears and motors. Dirty, stinking, non-working, lazy, punk-ass gears and motors.

The aforementioned ten minutes was taken up examining options. I was at the bottom of a gorge, but by gum, I had me some options. Waiting on help was one, but it stunk. Or rather, I stunk and I wasn’t in any hurry to hang around down in this overblown gully til the sun wasn’t shining down into it. I was already hot and sweaty. Did I mention I was wearing a drytop? In the sun? I might as well get myself to the top of this thing and buy a gelatto or an ice cream or slush puppy or whatever the vendors had up there. That meant closely examining my other options.

The incline train was in a crack in the side of the gorge. I could probably make my way up the crack, right? It wasn’t nearly as steep as the gorge walls. I mean it was still an incline, obviously, but there were rock outcrops and various ledges and intrepid-looking pathways. Nice. I could climb.

Or! Or! There was a LADDER! A ladder bolted to the underside of the incline train’s track! So far as I could tell, it went all the way to the top of the gorge in one straight climb! Niiiiiiice. The only issue was the location of that ladder. I mean, it’s on the bottom of the tracks, so climbing it meant that you were straddling a couple of big, greasy cables all the way to the top. Not the best thing if you needed to stop and rest. Or if the train started moving.

That one got me. I really didn’t want to be 6 stories up and look over my shoulder at an advancing incline train. Even if it wasn’t working properly, I didn’t want to get run over by it.

I survived drowning, which is a forgivable demise on a high-adventure kayaking trip, but I couldn’t go home in a box with people explaining that I had died, hit by a little train. The heat of the sun cooking my shiny black helmet (and thus my head) wasn’t doing my cognitive skills any good, but even I knew I didn’t want to get hit by a train on a river. That’s just embarrassing.

So I squared my sweaty shoulders, cursed the luck that sent my boat, and more importantly now my damned water bottle, spinning down a swollen river, and stepped off the top of the loading area for the trains onto rock, dust, dirt, and thorny bushes.

More about the thorny bushes to come.